Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso admits his return to Formula One has been a “challenge” but is “not worried” by his form with the marathon season still in its infancy.
Alonso, who will turn 40 in July, has endured a roller-coaster of a campaign with Alpine, the rebranded Renault team, after two years out of the sport.
At the season-opener in Bahrain, he “over-performed” with a ninth place in qualifying followed by a dispiriting race retirement due to a brake problem.
In the Emilia-Romagno race at Imola he “underperformed” with a 15th place in qualifying prefacing a finish of 10th.
Round three at Portimao last weekend brought an eighth-place finish from 13th on the grid, just behind teammate Esteban Ocon.
Ocon currently sits in ninth place in the championship; Alonso is in 12th.
“I feel capable of driving better than ever, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t encounter difficulties by embarking on a new adventure,” Alonso told a small group of international media, including AFP, on the sidelines of last week’s Portuguese Grand Prix.
“I don’t think things are more difficult than in the past.”
Alonso, the 2005 and 2006 world champion, has racked up 315 races in his career.
That experience is vital to Alpine who sit solidly in the midfield on the grid.
They are currently in fifth place in the constructors with Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari ahead of them.
“We will talk about it again if I lack performance all year round but it takes a few races to put everything in place and to seek the limit of the car – the 101%,” he said ahead of his home Spanish Grand Prix, where he last won in 2013, this weekend.
For Alonso, the competition in the middle of the grid is more intense than in previous years.
“Before, your position was pretty fixed – on a great 105% or a bad 90% weekend, you were between ninth and 11th place, whereas this year you can be seventh or 15th in two tenths (of a second),” he said.”
“So we have to strive for perfection every time.”
Alonso, with 32 F1 race wins to his name, believes his high-profile status in the sport makes him an easy target if performances don’t match his reputation.
“I have had one weekend that I wasn’t entirely comfortable in Imola and the problem is that in F1 there are a lot of media, a lot of articles,” he said.
“It’s a challenge.... but I don’t think about it too much.”
During his break from F1, Alonso flirted with other events – the Indy 500 and the Dakar Rally were ticked off on his bucket list.
He also triumphed twice in the iconic Le Mans 24 Hour Race with Toyota in 2018 and 2019.
“After the coronavirus pandemic, I think F1 is the category most able to produce a good show and good competition,” he added.
“The teams are still very strong, healthy and, in terms of performance, capable of producing fantastic cars.
“The IndyCar series will always be a great championship but I was more attracted to F1. The Dakar, I can do it again in the future, and the WEC (which includes Le Mans) is in a transition phase by 2023, before the arrival of the Hypercar category.”
Alonso also sees F1 attracting the attention of a younger audience following the takeover by America’s Liberty Media in 2017.
“I believe the sport has gained a better understanding of what fans want and what is needed for the show,” he said.
“The budgetary ceiling imposed on the teams, the new technical regulations for 2022, the qualifying sprint races (set for three GPs this year), all of this is there to produce better races and more entertainment.”
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